Review: No Love Songs – Southwark Playhouse

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Highlighting the Struggles of Love

Every year the Edinburgh Fringe throws up new shows and productions that have brilliant successful runs during the festival and that is where they stay. Others have more life breathed into them and are developed into longer pieces. Yet No Love Songs, presented by Dundee Rep, comes to London hardly changed from its sold out run at last summer’s Edinburgh Fringe and the Southwark Playhouse gets to play host, writes Christopher Peacock.

From an original idea from Kyle Falconer and Laura Wilde, No Love Songs as a musical is styled as a playlist of life rather than a musical theatre show. Gig theatre is a rather fitting term for the production. 

The stage has no set apart from gig cases and musical instruments. A two-hander (with musical accompaniment and the occasional nod from musician Gavin Whitworth), you can see how effective this stripped-back storytelling can be.

It is essentially a boy meets girl relationship story with Lana (Anna Russell-Martin) falling for musician Jessie (John McLarnon) who she spots at one of his gigs. Romance quickly blossoms and immediately after the arrival of their child, Jessie has the opportunity to tour America and earn good money for their nascent family. This is where things turn for Lana. The pressures of motherhood and the physical absence of her partner leaves Lana struggling and her mental health spirals. She swiftly reaches the nadir of her mental health as she attempts to take her own life.

In between songs we get a few scenes of the two as a couple but most of the work is soliloquy that borders on stand up comedy at times. The performances are flawless, both McLarnon and Russell-Martin get to show off their musical prowess and when given moments of comedy they handle it with such ease that laughs do ripple around the room. That is not to say that it was all kept lighthearted. The middle third of the show is heavy and powerful in its telling of the post-natal depression Lana suffers. Difficult to know how else to tackle the deep drama of depression, but the sharp running time of 75 minutes at least meant as an audience we were not all pulled too far down.

Directors Tashi Gore and Andrew Panton say in the programme notes that they ‘hope the show highlights the struggles that some parents go through’, and I can certainly say that No Love Songs does exactly that.

Southwark Playhouse Elephant, 1 Dante Place, London, SE11 4RX until Saturday 15 June 2024. Mon – Sat, 2.30pm & 7.45pm. Tickets: £10 Pioneers’ Preview, £16 Previews, £26 Standard, £21 Concession. 



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